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Understanding Swarm and Queen Cells

Understanding Swarm and Queen Cells

Seeing swarm or queen cells on your frames when checking your hives or receiving your nuc colonies? These cells are indicators of a colony preparing to swarm, which is a natural process where a new queen is raised, and part of the colony leaves to form a new colony. While this is a healthy sign of a thriving hive, it requires careful management to prevent the loss of bees and ensure the stability of your new colony. Here’s a guide on what to do when you start to see these cells popping up in your nucs and hives.

Before diving into management strategies, it’s crucial to understand what you’re dealing with:

Swarm Cells: These are usually found at the bottom or sides of the frames. They indicate the colony’s intention to swarm.
Queen Cells: These can be emergency cells (created in response to the loss of a queen), supercedure cells (to replace an aging queen), or swarm cells. Their location and number can help you determine their purpose.

Steps to Manage Your Swarm

1. Inspect the Colony Thoroughly


Check for Existing Queen: First, ensure there’s a functioning queen in the colony. If she’s present and laying eggs, that’s a good sign.
Count the Cells: Take note of how many swarm and queen cells there are and where they are located.

2. Decide on Your Goal

Prevent Swarming: If you want to keep the bees from swarming, you’ll need to take specific steps to manage the population and queen cells.
Split the Colony: If you’re okay with increasing your number of hives, you can use the queen cells to create new colonies.

3. Preventing Swarming

Destroy Swarm Cells:
 Carefully remove and destroy swarm cells to discourage the colony from swarming. Be cautious not to remove all queen cells if you suspect the current queen is failing.
Provide Space: Add an extra brood box or supers to give the bees more space, which can reduce the urge to swarm.
Equalize Colonies: If you have multiple hives, balance the bee population by moving frames of brood or bees between colonies.

4. Creating a Split

Prepare a New Hive:
 Set up a new hive with frames of drawn comb or foundation.
Move Frames with Queen Cells: Carefully move frames with queen cells to the new hive. Ensure you have sufficient bees, brood, and resources in both the original and new hives.
Monitor Both Hives: Keep a close eye on both hives. Ensure the new queen in the split emerges and mates successfully. In the original hive, ensure the remaining queen continues to perform well.

5. Ongoing Management

Regular Inspections: Continue to inspect your hives regularly, looking for signs of swarming and checking the health of the queens.
Provide Resources: Ensure both hives have enough food and space. This is particularly important during the initial stages of the split.

Tips for Success


Timing is Key: The best time to manage swarm cells is during the spring when the colony is most likely to swarm. Act quickly once you spot the cells.
Know Your Bees: Understanding the behavior and tendencies of your particular bee strain can help in anticipating swarming behavior.
Education and Support: Don’t hesitate to seek advice from local beekeeping associations or mentors. Experience and shared knowledge are invaluable.

Managing a colony with swarm cells and queen cells requires prompt and careful action. By understanding the signs and taking the appropriate steps, you can prevent swarming, successfully split your hive, and ensure the health and productivity of your bees. Whether you aim to maintain a single, strong colony or expand your apiary, these strategies will help you navigate the complexities of bee management with confidence.

Keep an eye out for out next blog where we go more in depth about when you should be performing hive splits! Happy beekeeping!

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    May 23, 2024 Kristine Newman-Jones

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